Sunday, September 30, 2012

From the wild

Ever try living off the land? Are there wild foods in your diet? Hunters and fishermen eat wild foods. Sometimes it’s a significant part of their diet. How about wild plants? Do you know what grows near you?

If you don’t already have them, get some good plant identification books for your local area. Learn what is edible, what is poisonous, and what is medicinal. Sometimes a single plant will have parts that fit all three categories. It’s good to memorize a fair number of plants, but good books keep your memory fresh and help you learn more.

Get used to using local plants. Incorporate them in your diet on a regular basis. Should you ever need to rely on them completely, you’ll have already gotten used to them. People sometimes starve rather than eat unfamiliar foods.

Learn where useful wild plants grow near your home. My lovely wife has been know to transplant useful plants to our property. She’ll find something interesting in the wild and bring it home. That way it will be close by when we want it.

A lot of people rely on prescription medications. What would happen if there were disruptions in the supply? Maybe there are wild plants that could do the job. You may be suffering from something and the relief to your condition is growing like a weed in your yard. There are plants with antibiotic properties. Don’t forget antiparasitics.

Learn how prepare all these gifts from the wild. Get used to using them in your day to day life. In an emergency, you’ll know what to do.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Please keep up

There’s a joke that if you see the bomb disposal guy running, do your best to keep up with him.

I was talking with a friend today who has connections in the intelligence community. His contact just spent a small fortune turning his house into a fortress -top of the line security system, new security doors and windows, and who knows what else. He has also stocked up 100,000 rounds of ammo.

Does he know something we don’t?

Is he a lone nut?

If he has gone around the bend, he’s not alone. There are some strange things going on in the covert world. I hear some weird things, but feel I have to protect my sources. There are an awful lot of rumors going around. I make note of them but unless I can verify for myself, there’s not much I can do. However, when a guy who’s supposed to be in the know suddenly turns his home into a bunker, one has to wonder.

Anyone else see strange behavior by people in privileged positions?


Friday, September 28, 2012

We love fall

My lovely wife is a big fan fall. By the way, any idea how far up the side of the van a 5 year old granddaughter can reach?

The leaves have started to turn. Tourists are wandering the roads, looking a bit lost.

Back in my school days, I used to hate this time of year. It was pure torture to sit in a boring classroom and look outside at mountains covered in brilliant color. Now that I’m free from all that, I really make the effort to go outside and enjoy it.

We took the sailboat out on the lake today. Like an idiot, I forgot the camera back in the house. It was cool, but breezy. Rain is predicted for the weekend so we got out while we could.

The best time to plan future sailing trips is while actually sailing. I’ve wanted to sail down the Intracoastal Waterway from VA to FL since last year. We’ve been unable to fit it into our schedule. However, my lovely wife says next fall we’ll do it. That’s only a year away. Of course, a lot can happen in a year, but with no plans, nothing happens.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Flu shots?

I’m not a doctor so I don’t practice medicine. There, got that out of the way.

I don’t get a flu shot. My reasoning was based on observing the people who did. It appeared that the shot actually made some people sick. Now we have an article about flu shots in The Vancouver Sun. People who took the shot got sicker.

I’m one of the groups that the medical profession recommends take the shot: those with a history of respiratory problems. The thing is, my lovely wife used to work in a hospital as a medical lab technician. At one hospital she worked at the infection control officer would not take the shot and “unofficially” recommended against it. One has to wonder what’s going on.

Even if the shot worked as expected, it’s still a crap shoot. The shot is for strains of flu that is their best guest at which ones will manifest over the flu season. Some years they guess wrong.

It seems that flu shots are being given out all over the place. As far as I know, you can’t get one at the drive through window at the local burger place, but that might be in the works. Flue shots are heavily promoted. There’s a fair bit of societal pressure to get one. Being a contrary cuss, that’s almost reason enough for me not to get one.

What am I doing instead of a flu shot? I’m washing my hands like crazy, with real soap and water. That will certainly reduce my chance of getting an infection, and I know there are no bad side effects.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The cost of pleasure, convenience, and vanity

Thoreau was right: simplify, simplify, simplify. There are a lot of things in the world designed to make life easy and give us pleasure, but at what cost?

Every time I look at acquiring something, I wonder what it’s cost is in freedom. For example, say you trade in a perfectly good, paid off used car to buy the newest model. You gain that new car smell, a loan that has to be paid, higher registration and insurance fees, and something that needs to be polished. It’s most likely more complicated and more difficult for a shady tree mechanic to repair. You have less job freedom as now there’s a loan that needs to be paid every month. Even if you pay for it outright, you still gain some added hassle. If nothing else, you worry about that first dent or scratch.

Thoreau was known for his experiment in economy on Walden Pond. A modern proponent of tiny houses is Deek over at There are a number of people building tiny houses these days. One thing I like about Deek is his use of found and recycled materials. The guy knows how to work with a tiny budget.

I was looking at one of those fancy sailing magazines today. Not only could I not afford any of the boats featured, I couldn’t even afford a pair of their yachting boots. Then there are people like Dave Z over at Triloboat. He and his wife live on a boat built out of common lumberyard materials. The guy doesn’t even use an engine. His budget makes me look like a wanton spendthrift.

There is a beauty and freedom to doing things on a more human scale. If you’ve got a nice new luxer car, it goes to the dealership for the least little thing. Us beater drivers think nothing of banging out a dent and slapping a little bondo on it -if we bother with dents at all. A small house makes small demands on your budget and time. Dave Z can replace everything on his boat himself because he built it.

There is power in living at a level you can maintain with little effort. There is freedom.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chopping wood

Nights have been down close to freezing here in Northern New Hampshire. Fortunately, I’ve got a bit of firewood to hold me over until the big delivery gets here. The bulk of my wood will be split with a log splitter. That certainly saves a lot of time.

Until that load arrives, I’ve been splitting wood with an ax, a fairly enjoyable exercise. It’s enjoyable, that is, as long as I’m not splitting all my wood by hand. Chopping a cord or two over time is recreation and good exercise. Chopping a half dozen cord while racing the snow is a whole lot less fun.

For me, this a good time of the year to chop wood. It’s cool so I don’t work up a big sweat, but it’s not really cold. The fall foliage is coming in with all its brilliant colors and there is a crispness to the air. The spring is too muddy. Summer is too hot and buggy. Winter is too darn cold and icy.

I replaced the ax handle on my favorite ax this year. They make axes now with fiberglass handles permanently bonded to the ax head. They are tough and stand up to abuse, but there is no poetry in them. A good hickory or ash handle has life to it. It feels good on the hand and has a bit of natural spring to absorb the shock.

My wife offered to pick up a new ax handle while she was in town. My first impulse was to say no. What does my wife know about ax handles? Then again what really is there to know? I told her the length needed and to get one with straight grain and no knots. She picked up a fine handle. Maybe I should delegate more often.

There’s an old joke about the farmer who’s been using the same ax for over 40 years. He’s replaced the handle three times and the head twice.

Heating with wood is a lot of work, but I’m working for myself. I’m not caged in an office somewhere earning money to buy a non renewable fuel like oil or gas. Instead, I’m using a local resource, sustainably harvested. It feels good, and a good pile of firewood is better than money in the bank.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Roof repair

I gave a buddy of mine some help repairing his roof. It had been leaking for some time, but he lacked both the funds and knowledge to do the job. Recently he’d been given some roofing materials and I had a free afternoon to show him what to do. My years of doing much with little come in handy now and then.

Whoever installed the roof cut corners that should not be cut. They skipped a couple rows of shingles near the ridge pole. A poorly designed and installed roof vent sorta kinda almost covered it. Over time things shifted a bit and roof vent efficiently channeled water directly into the room below.

With only a little more time and a few dollars more spent on materials, the contractor could have done a good job. Instead, he left behind something destined to fail early. Whatever happened to taking pride in one’s job?


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nobody will warn you

Evacuations orders will not be given for most disasters.

Almost the only time we hear about possible evacuation orders being given are for hurricanes. Anyone who keeps informed about the weather knows they are coming. The government can’t that secret. Maybe they wish they could.

After the last hurricane to hit the Gulf, authorities seemed to be leaning towards sheltering in place. It was only a category I hurricane, yet the flooding was significant in a lot of areas. Many people who sheltered in place wish they would have evacuated.

Other emergencies the government will most likely keep secret. If they had credible evidence of a dirty bomb, bioweapon, or other threat, no evacuation order would be given. Cities cannot be evacuated safely or quickly. People die when escaping a hurricane, and they’ve usually have several days warning. Should everyone try and leave at the same time, it would be chaos.

If the threat turned out to be a false alarm, people would have died in the chaos for nothing. My guess is that they’ve decided to take the chance that they can either negate the threat or the body count would be less than in an emergency evacuation.

An individual with inside information would definitely want to get their family out. Back when I was a firefighter, my family had a standard evacuation plan if the chemical plant in the mill
ever caught fire. One day it did and my wife took the kids 12 miles upwind to my parent’s cottage. I went to put the fire out. Our local emergency services did not have the manpower to both deal with the emergency and an evacuation. We were able to put the fire out and safely shut down the chemical plant. Mill workers did some heroic actions that day, along with emergency services. It was barely mentioned in the local papers.

If your neighbor is a firefighter, cop, or has connections to your local government, keep an eye on them. Should they decide to pack up the family and leave town all of a sudden, maybe you should too.

Personally, I tend to stay out of big cities as a matter of course.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Drought Maps

Some amazing US drought maps from NASA.

It's clear that even though there has been some surface water improvement, deep underground, the drought persists.

It's amazing how much of the country is suffering from serious water shortages.

By the way, notice the very tip of New Hampshire where I live. Yep, I'm Saudi Arabia of water. That's why my 5.5 foot deep well still has plenty of water.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Just another normal day in Pompeii

Imagine you are living back in the Roman city of Pompeii in the year AD 79. It’s a prosperous place. Civilized. Your day to day life is pretty normal. You do what you normally do. Everyone does their daily routine. One day the volcano erupts and everyone dies.

Minor earthquakes were common. People got used to the occasional rumbling of the volcano. It was probably considered normal behavior. After all, nothing major ever went wrong -until it did and everybody died.

There was some warning. One year there was a earthquake bigger than most that did a lot of damage. Some people rebuilt. Other moved away. About 17 years later, the volcano erupted and killed all those who stayed.

Lessons for us today?

One could easily say that people shouldn’t have lived in such a geologically active area. There were good reasons to live in Pompeii. It’s volcanic soils were fertile and productive. That whole area is geologically active, so why move from one shaky place to another? We could say no one should live in southern California. One day the “big one” will hit and it will suffer a devastating earthquake. Yet, just like in Pompeii, there are good reasons to stay. There are good jobs, cultural attractions, agriculture and manufacturing.

We all have to weigh the risks against the benefits. Of course, many people don’t know the risks of living in an area, and don’t want to know. Others downplay the risks. They assume the danger is far away and the benefits are here now. There is a tendency to assume the future will be like the present. Of course, people in New Orleans have no excuse whatsoever.

What if you were one of the Pompeii residents who left after the moderate earthquake. For 17 years nothing else really bad happened. Your old friends in Pompeii might have ridiculed you for years about moving away. Of course, then one day they all died. There wasn’t even a chance to say, “I told you so.”

We should take a cold hard look at where we live and time we live in. In most places, most of the time, there’s no major problems. However, we should know what the potential troubles might be. Some disasters, like a volcanic eruptions, are rare, but they have the potential for high death tolls. Other calamities can be dealt with. For example, a friend of mine lives in an earthquake area. His house is well stocked with supples and his vehicles have huge bug out bags. He’s weighed the pros and cons of staying in the area. Job and family obligations keep him there, but he’s done what he can to mitigate the risk.

Keep in mind that some things are too big to prepare for. All one can do is to be somewhere else. All I’m suggesting is that people keep they eyes out for warning signs of big trouble and then act accordingly.

Don’t get caught in Pompeii when the volcano blows.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Information does not equal intelligence

I’ve been giving some thought to the surveillance state recently. State operators have more and more information at their finger tips, but often they don’t know what to do with it. Domestic or foreign, it doesn’t seem to matter. They get a lot of stuff wrong.

For decades the US and Soviet Union struggled against each other in the cold war. The spying that went on was epic. We’ll never know how much money was spent on it as much of it was “black budget” -invisible to the average person. In spite of the massive effort, the collapse of the USSR was totally missed. That was huge and nobody saw it coming.

Take our involvement with Afghanistan. To get the Russians out, suitcases of money were given to people who turned out to not be our friends. Sure, the Russians were forced to leave, but then the some of the same guns were turned against the US. Pretty short sighted.

Domestic spying has access to huge volumes of computer data. Our whole lives are tracked. Everything we buy. Every e-mail we send. Every blog post I write. There are records of everything -even when not strictly legal.

How is it whenever a “domestic terror cell” is uncovered, they turn out to be a bunch of wanna be losers? None of them would have done much of anything at all if not for their secret government informer. He’s the who supplies them with stuff like arms and bomb materials. Embarrassingly often, these cases are thrown out of court.

Now consider the government can infinitely detain someone on allegations of terrorist connections. That’s pretty scary. Now consider how often they get people’s intentions out and out wrong. Then it get’s really scary.

Governments use a lot of the same data mining that companies use for marketing. I don’t know about anyone else, but a lot of stuff is marketed to me for stuff that I don’t want. For example, at one time I was researching marine diesel fuel tanks and fuel transfer systems. My project was converting a car to run on waste vegetable oil. I was looking at marine fuel tanks because they come in may different sizes and shapes, and I was looking for one to fit in the available space in the vehicle. The fuel transfer equipment wasn’t for diesel but for veggie oil. From that information, marketers were under the impression I owned a large diesel powered boat. My mailbox was flooded with advertising for power boat related goods and services.

That’s only one example. In one day’s mail I got stuff asking me to join the NRA and a membership offer from a group pledged against the NRA. Since I’m a writer, I often research stuff that other people might be interested in, or sometimes I’m researching for a negative blog post. If I criticize a product, there will most likely be ads for it on my blog. Hope you are as amused by this as I am.

It’s funny when it’s marketing. It’s deadly serious when it’s national security or personal freedom.

Government agencies are agenda driven. They will only see what they are looking for. Nobody gets promoted finding evidence that goes against the boss’s pet project. With so much information available, it’s easy to cherry pick the “facts” needed to “prove” any viewpoint. Information is not intelligence.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gonna pass on this one

I looked at a MacGregor sailboat the other day. I heard that maybe it could be had for very little money.

It was amazing, but not in a good way. The hull was black with mold. It had never been covered and there were weeds growing in the cockpit. From a distance, it was clear the rigging needed repair. Parts were obviously broken. The halyards looked sunbaked and were flaking apart.

I did not want to get any closer as the boat and trailer were sitting in the middle of a huge patch of hogweed. Hogweed is an invasion poisonous plant. I was as close to this horrible weed as I cared to get. For me, the hogweed was the deal killer.

Another deal killer would have been if the sails were in bad shape. Sails are expensive. Hulls can be cleaned. Woodwork can be repaired or replaced. Rigging can be redone. Sail makers have specialized skills. It might be possible find good used sails for a reasonable price, but don’t count on it.

While that deal turned out to be a bust, it was worth checking out. This is the time of year to look for boat deals in New England. Unlike this guy, most people do something for winter storage. It can be an expensive hassle. Boats have to be pulled from the water, winterized and stored. A quick sale avoids all that. That’s how I got the boat I have now.

I’d be looking for a boat with a trailer good enough to make the trip to Florida. Once down to sunny Florida, repairs would be much easier. Ever try to do fiberglass repair in a snowstorm? It also doesn’t help that sailboats are pretty rare around here. Nobody stocks anything for them.

There are plenty of good deals right now, but I’m not really in the market for a good deal. An exceptionally good deal would grab my attention -as long as it’s not surrounded by nasty poisonous plants.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Poachers, smugglers, and drug dealers

Now it’s no secret I live out in the woods. My cousin, on the other hand, really lives out in the woods. My lovely wife and I went for a drive and ended up at my cousin’s place. It’s about a 50 mile drive up a winding two lane road. Then down a couple of dirt roads. She doesn’t get many visitors.

As luck would have it, that’s where the motorhome decided to have a flat tire, as the sun was setting. Flat tires are never much fun. Fortunately, the spare was inflated, the jack worked well enough to do the job, and the tire iron was heavy duty enough to crack the rusty wheel nuts. There are a fair number of those little beasts.

Tedious. Not super difficult, just tedious. As I slowly removed the rusty nuts, I thought of the can of WD40 sitting back at the house that I forgot to put back in the vehicle. By then it was dark. Fortunately, I’d put a Coleman lantern in the vehicle -just in case I ever had to change a tire in the dark or something.

It did give my lovely wife and I more time to visit with my cousin. She said it was a good thing I had everything I needed to do the job. There’s no cell phone service and the few neighbors are not the sort of people who take kindly to strangers knocking on their doors.

Her immediate neighbor is a poacher. Rumor has is his land is booby trapped. Further down the road there’s a drug dealer -who no one messes with. The other choice is a guy who’s suspected of smuggling people across the Canadian border.

“Nobody talks to the neighbors around here,” she said.

No kidding.

There are a few other cabins in the area, but they are owned by out of state people who are gone for the season.

It always was sparsely populated and remote, but the economic downturn hit the area hard. There used to decent jobs within reasonable driving distance but those are all gone. Now it’s a longer drive, with high priced gas, to poorer paying jobs, if you can get one. People are giving up and moving away.

There are some truckers based out of that area. Housing is cheap. Taxes are low. If you are a long haul trucker, it doesn’t matter a whole lot where you eventually park the rig. Some are getting by like my cousin and her elderly husband -poorly on a small Social Security pension. There seems to be some attempt to make a living by selling each other the same piles of junk at yard sales.

On paper, it might look like a pretty good bug out location: few people, isolated, plenty of fresh water, fishing, hunting, low taxes, cheap land. However, better check out the neighbors and see if they are poachers, smugglers. and drug dealers. That could change your mind.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Armadas and other annoyances

So the US and Britain are deploying an “armada” of ships to the Persian Gulf.

The Israelis are threatening to attack Iran, and the US and Britain just happen to be staging a huge naval exercise at the same time. By some strange coincidence the exercise is right off the coast of Iran. Imagine that.

Interesting choice of word “armada.” It brings to mind the Spanish Armada of 1588. That’s when the Spanish and their allies demonstrated that having the biggest fleet wasn’t necessarily the path to victory. Perhaps it’s an unfortunate word choice. I fear that it might be a prescient word choice.

Israel is all worked up for an attack. Repercussions don’t seem matter to them. In fact it does’t even look like a good idea from a military view point. There’s serious doubt an air assault could seriously set back Iran’s nuclear program. Unless, of course, Israel would use its nuclear weapons. That would certainly prove the point that we had reason to fear nukes in the Middle East.

It’s one thing for Israel to make a huge strategic blunder, but why would the US and Britain put themselves in harm’s way? Could it be to distract us from the downward spiral the economy is on? Are they afraid that like the Spanish and Portuguese, there will be massive protests against economic conditions?

Could it be they know the economy and everything else is doing down the tubes? Might as well settle a few old scores on the way down? Sometimes it appears the world is run by a Babylonian death cult. Nothing else makes sense.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Do you really own it?

Back when I decided to build a dome to live in, I received a lot of negative comments. One of the big things people gave me crap about was resale value. Frankly, I really didn’t care about resale value. The house was for my family, not for some potential owner down the road.

Turns out banks are interested in resale value and don’t like to loan on nontraditional housing. That had to be worked around. By selling my old house, I made enough profit to build the shell, divide up some rooms, and do some wiring. Once the place was actually in existence, it wasn’t a problem to get a loan to finish the job. Now that tax assessors have put a number on the value of the place, it’s pretty much treated like any other house.

I never worried about the resale value of vehicles. Even back when I borrowed money to buy cars, resale was never a concern. All my cars were modified to fit my needs -not some plain vanilla basic generic needs. Besides, I don’t trade in cars. By the time I’m done with a vehicle, it’s ready for the scrap yard.

A lot of people talk about cool and interesting things they’d like to do, but then rarely depart from the norm. I hear about the dream houses or cottages they’d want to build, or some radical modification they’d love to try. Of course, few banks would lend money to build such a house, so they’d have get creative on the financing side. In the end, they pretty much do what everyone else does. If they feel really radical, they might paint their front door red. In a pinch they could repaint it for resale.

The US is supposed to be a nation of individuals. Sure we are -within a certain narrow range. It got me thinking. If we don’t act like we own our stuff enough to modify it, do we feel the same way about owning ourselves? After all, we are our own do it yourself projects, responsible for the way we turn out.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The hippification continues

Here’s a photo of my lovely wife painting the ambulance/motorhome conversion.

It’s nice to own a vehicle you don’t mind playing with.

My lovely wife and I have a very simple arrangement. I got to buy the cool vehicle and do neat things to it like turn it into a motorhome and convert it to run on waste veggie oil.

She gets to decorate it.

I get to keep my mouth shut.

Anyway, I don’t mind at all. I guess a guy with a ponytail and beard has no reason to complain about driving a hippy van.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Money from the sky

It was a beautiful sunny day on Thursday as I did my farmers’ market shopping. Someone commented on how bright the sun was. It’s money from the sky I said. He knows I have solar electricity so he knew what I was talking about.

Another friend made a comment on the sunshine.

I said, “It’s raining soup and you have no bucket.”

“I’d like a bucket,” she said, referring to solar panels.

That’s what they are to me, buckets to catch free energy from above. It’s a nice feeling to see my household expenses drop for no other reason than it’s a sunny day.

Now I’m shopping around for solar panels for the camper van. It would be ideal for backwoods camping. Right now I’d have to start up the engine to charge the batteries. Seems like overkill to me. Even if I’m burning free waste veggie instead of expensive diesel, it’s wasteful.

All I’ve got to do is to decide how much money I want to spend. It is tempting to get 100 - 200 watts of power, or more. The van has a lot roof space for mounting panels. It would be an awful lot of power because my energy use is modest. With that extra power, I could add a lot of fancy electrical gizmos.

On the other hand, a 30 watt panel with charge controller is in my budget now. That’s the set up on my sailboat and it’s working well. The van has more ways to use power, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get by using less.

One really important thing is the ability to recharge a dead starting battery in the field. Imagine killing the starting battery by accident, many miles in the woods. Even a 30 watt panel would eventually be able to put enough charge in the battery to start the van. That’s a big safety feature.

Whatever I do, I’d better do it soon. The low low price of solar electric panels might not last. I’d hate to miss my chance to buy another photon bucket.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stopped them this year

While walking my dog, the power line tree trimmer guys came by scouting out my land. I caught up to them and identified myself as the land owner. I made it clear to them that they do not have permission to cut down my trees.

5 years ago they came around when I wasn’t home and they butchered the landscape. It wasn’t a surgical removal. Everything got mowed down. All I had left was 2 foot stumps sticking out of the ground. Pickers had even taken any of the good wood that was left behind.

Months ago the power company sent some innocuous looking paperwork in the mail. A careful read of the document revealed that not answering the form would be taken as permission to cut the trees down. Does that seem kinda shady to anyone else? I filled out the paperwork and mailed it in. Sure enough, after the guy checked his records, my lack of permission was down in black and white. My mind has serious doubts that he’d have checked the records if I’d not been around.

In 3 or 4 years those trees will be a bit bigger. Then I’m going to selectively cut a few and turn them into firewood. That’s much better than the trees getting chipped and hauled away. Better for me anyway.

If you aren’t around to take care of your property, no one else is going to take care of it for you. (that’s right Paracynic, I want to darn kids to say off my lawn.)


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Too soon for Christmas and other holiday stuff

I saw Christmas decorations in a restaurant on Monday. That is way too soon. I can deal with the 12 days of Christmas -not 12 months of it.

Halloween is coming up. It’s the second most expensive holiday after Christmas. People go all out. Anyone else remember when it was a day for the kids? I think more adults than kids dress up. My lovely wife has informed me that we are going to a costume ball. I told her I’m going as a midget. She was not amused.

Holidays get diluted. Memory and history fade. The reasons for the holiday get reduced to something that would fit in a tweet. At some point, it’s nothing more than a long weekend -another day off -or at least a day when you can’t get any banking or government business done.

Some holidays lose their unique status. Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays get combined into Presidents Day. Other holidays disappear entirely. Some states used to celebrate “Fast Day.” Of course, a day of fasting and prayer doesn’t hold much attraction to people today.

Columbus Day is now politically incorrect. That’s a tough one. Columbus was not just an explorer; he was an exploiter. However, October needs a long weekend or two, so it’s hard to let it go. Why don’t we keep the holiday but call it Genocide Day?

Holidays originate to mark notable events. I’m sure that Veteran’s Day meant a lot more to people when memories were fresh. Time wears away at holidays. Some endure, like Christmas; a holiday around the winter solstice is almost universal. Of course, now it’s all about a huge retail season -sad, really.

I used to note the holidays of other cultures, just for the fun of it. If you look hard enough, every day is a holiday for someone somewhere. I used to say things like: Happy Chinese New Year! While I’m on the subject of other people’s holidays, why doesn’t the US celebrate Carnival? Is it that darn Puritan influence? I sure as heck could use the occasional raucous street party. Mardi Gras doesn’t count. New Orleans is a special case. The rules are different there.

There should be a rule against Christmas decorations in September. I don’t care how much money the holiday pulls in. That’s just wrong. It makes me want to celebrate Fast Day.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fired up and the camper van

For me, Monday evening was the official start of the firewood burning season. My lovely wife and I had been gone for an overnight visit in Maine. When we got home it was only in the 50s and very damp. Temperatures are supposed to drop to 35 tonight. That’s cool enough in my book for a fire in the woodstove.

I’ve been burning stuff in the kitchen woodstove, but not any really steady fires. Mostly the woodstove is a good way to get rid of all the political junk mail that’s been coming in by the bucketful. Beats the heck out of a shredder for destroying records. The warm weather is supposed to return in a few days, but this a good test run.

Speaking of test runs, the ambulance/camper conversion keeps on running just fine. The waste veggie fuel system is functioning the way it’s supposed to.

My lovely wife and I spent Sunday night sleeping in it over in Maine. We both had a pretty good night’s rest. We’ve been slowly loading it up with all the things we need for camping. For an overnight, all we have to do is throw in our clothes, a bit of fresh food in the 12 volt cooler, and we were good to go.

Instead of stopping at coffee shops, we make coffee or tea in the microwave. We refill our water bottles from the stored water in the van. If we need a snack, there’s an assortment of goodies in the cupboards. Savings add up.

The wiring system on the van is slowly giving up its secrets. Eventually, I want to mount solar panels on the roof and need to know the best way to wire them up. No manuals came with this vehicle, so I’ve had to follow wires and figure things out for myself. The huge bundles of wires and components look imposing, but it’s all a matter of doing one thing at a time.

Not much else going on. Sure, I could rant on every day about the state of world, but don’t we all deserve some time off from that? I’m not quite old enough to be a full time curmudgeon.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Smile you’re in a police state

The FBI is spending a billion dollars on face recognition software. The police state marches forward. Remember how the Nazis were terrible for having files on everyone? When the Soviets watched every move of its citizens? I don’t think the FBI is on the side of the angels here.

Constant surveillance, TSA shake downs, drones, enemy combatant status, police and border patrol checkpoints, welcome to the land of the free. Machiavelli said that one of the ways to take over a country is to keep all the old institutions and forms, but then change the way it really works. We still have a constitution and a legal framework, but they don’t really mean much any more. RIP USA.

We know that the TSA scanners main purpose is to enrich scanner makers, along with their investors -many of which were the same politicians that created the TSA. The face recognition software is making some tech companies very very wealthy. Wars and the police state have been good for the military industrial complex.

But hey, that’s no reason to be gloomy, right? Sure the populace has been dumbed down to accept this crap. Real criminals go unpunished. Freedom erodes daily. In spite of that we have reason to believe this is only temporary.

What happens to a police state when the state can no longer pay its police? In Greece there are fights breaking out between regular cops and riot police. Your average cop isn’t a bad guy. He wants to do the right thing. He loves his family and his country. Many in the service today still believe in Protecting and Serving. Then there are those who are bullies. They tend to end up in SWAT and riot squads. Joe good cop sees his wages and pension going away. They see the break down of a free society. Joe is as disturbed about the direction of the country as the rest of us. The bullies on the other hand, just love to play soldier and push people around. I’m betting this country has a lot more Joes than bullies. Of course, stop paying the bullies and not too many of those guys will stick around either.

Then there’s the whole electronic surveillance system. That whole wiz bang sci-fi system is sitting on top of a decaying and increasing shaky electric grid system. No electric power, no surveillance. Freedom is only a blackout away. Sure there are some backup systems, but not a lot and few if any are set up for long term outages. Backup systems aren’t sexy so they don’t get the budget they need.

Did you every have computer problems from electrical issues? Power spikes, brown outs, black outs? Ever lose information? Hardware? Does it take a while for your system to reboot and get running again? Now imagine that with systems 1000 times more complex than your home computer.

The police state is fragile. Why do you think they try so hard to keep the lid on? If more than a handful of people resist, the whole facade falls apart. People in fear and ignorant people are easier to control, so we are kept dumb and threatened by the boogie man.

Here’s the thing. We still believe we are the home of the free. People can only ignore evidence to the contrary for so long. The stress from believing one thing and observing something else takes its toll. One day people decide they aren’t going to take it anymore. A long tradition of freedom doesn’t mesh well with a police state.

So smile, you’re on police state camera, but so is everyone else. Absolutely everyone is now a potential threat to them. No wonder they are nervous.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Earth movers

We take our heavy machinery for granted. It wasn’t all that many years ago when most things were done with hand tools. The basement of a local church was hand dug, long after the church was built. There are still a few old timers who remember working on it.

The water line from my well to my house is 66 feet long and a minimum of 6 feet deep. I know this because I dug it by hand 40 years ago when I was 14. It seems a good part of my youth was spent digging ditches, moving dirt in a wheel barrow, and splitting rocks. I got pretty good at swinging a sledge hammer.

Anybody remember star drills? They looked a bit like chisels with odd shaped heads, maybe a foot or so long. The drill is held against a rock with one hand while the other ponds on in with a big hammer. The drill is turned a bit after each hit. After banging in it for a while you stop and sweep out the rock dust with a stick. The idea was to drill a line of shallow holes then drive in wedges to split the rock. The work was tedious, hard and a bit dangerous. The best thing that could be said about it is that it would do the job.

Thats the sort of thing I did during the summers of my early teen years. My dad would kick me out of bed bright and early every morning to do that type of work. The afternoons were mine to do with as I pleased. It was a relief when I was old enough to get a job. Nobody expected me to split rocks at work.

What impressed me was how much a single person could do over a few months with simple tools. Picks, shovels, grub hoes, pry bars, hammers, rope, bock and tackle -all simple tools, but effective over time.

Anyone driving the back roads in New England are impressed with all the old stone walls. Those walls aren’t necessarily there because a wall was needed. What was needed was a clear field to plant crops in. Once all the rocks were cleared out, something had to be done with all the rocks.

The people who built those walls were the lucky ones back then. They at least had draft animals that could haul rocks away on a stone boat. Some old fields don’t have walls. Instead they have random piles of rocks. Those poor people did everything by hand. Rather than carry rocks a long way, they just piled them in heaps.

When good rock free farmland in the Midwest opened up for settlement, New England was depopulated as farmers flocked to easily tilled fields. Having moved my fair share of rocks and earth, I can understand their excitement.

One thing about doing everything by hand, the job is given a lot of thought before beginning. Inefficiency translates into more days of blisters and sore backs. You want to do it right the first time.

How long would it take to bury that water line using today’s machinery? It couldn’t be done that way, at least not nearly as neatly. The water line is buried in a steep hill. I was able to dig between all the major trees without killing them. Sometimes the only way to do something is by hand.

For everything else, be glad there’s machines for that now. If fuel was $20/gallon, it would still be cheaper and faster to use a machine. There’s a tremendous amount of energy in fossil fuels. We take it for granted today, but I had a taste of what it was like in the old days and don’t want to do that again.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Legacy system

My oil furnace guy came over today. That’s one job I’m perfectly happy to not do myself. I have serviced it in the past: changed the filters, vacuumed the combustion chamber, replaced nozzles, and adjusted electrodes. I was so broke I had to do it myself, even though I lacked the proper test equipment and had to wing it. It ran fine when I was done, but what an ugly job.

The furnace is 20 or so years old. Originally, I wanted a gas furnace. In fact, that’s what I thought I’d bought. The salesman said no problem, the installers said no way. It was complicated, but to make a long story short, the oil furnace ended up costing them more than it cost me.

So there I was, stuck with an oil furnace. Many years oil was much cheaper than firewood so I burned oil. 20 years ago my wife and both had full time jobs and really didn’t have the time to deal with wood. It’s one thing when you have the time and ability to gather it yourself. It’s another thing when you have to get it delivered cut and split. Even so, I always could and did burn wood. Some years not much wood, other years mostly wood.

So the furnace guy was able to clean and service it without anything major needing replacement. It’s one serious breakdown from being scrapped. The furnace is a legacy system from the time of cheap oil. It’s worth keeping up, but only for as long as it doesn’t cost much to keep going.

Oil heat isn’t in my budget, at least for day to day usage. I’m going to use it for special occasions. When wood is your only source of heat, someone has to load up the stove every day. If we wanted to go away for a few days, a friend or a relative would come over to keep the home fires burning. An automatic heating system allows us a bit more freedom. One year everyone in the house had the flu. Sure was nice to be able to not bundle up and trudge through the snow to the woodpile.

Since the furnace is rarely used, I don’t even bother with an oil delivery. There’s a 125 gallon minimum delivery and I’m not sure I want to tie up that kind of money, especially with my lack of commitment to oil heat. Instead, the furnace is running off-road diesel. Diesel and heating oil are pretty much interchangeable. Off-road is a bit cheaper because it lacks the road taxes of regular diesel. The diesel is pumped into 5 gallon fuel containers and then hand poured into the fuel tank.

By the way, don’t get caught using heating oil or off road diesel in your vehicle. Sure, it runs just fine, but if you get caught, the fines are substantial. The government takes their road taxes seriously.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Small boats

It’s no secret that I love small boats: canoe, sail, kayak, or rowboat, it’s all good. Perhaps that’s why I love reading about people’s adventures in small boats.

Recently I’ve read about some amazing small boats and the people who adventure in them.

Check out these expedition rowboats. One cool thing is that they designed the boat to be towed by a bicycle and then the bicycle could easily be carried in the boat. It’s a neat idea. They designed that system for a totally human powered 4500 mile adventure on land and water.

Then there is this couple, Ginny and Steve. They left Florida in a modified 19.5 foot Sea Pearl and are currently all the way down to Brazil. Pretty amazing for a boat that’s basically a day sailer or weekend camping boat.

Here’s another couple that traveled 700 nautical miles, from St. Martin to Venezuela on a boat make totally from junk. They had no budget to speak of and often relied on the kindness of strangers.

Reading these stories, I look at my own sailboat, an Oday 19, in a new light. Compared to boats that these people have taken on adventures, the Oday is large and comfortable. It’s weather tight cabin is large enough for myself, my lovely wife, and our dog to sleep comfortably. It easily carries hundreds of pounds of gear. Pure luxury.

Tied up at a marina, my boat can disappear behind some boat’s dingies. Many people would not dream of spending even a week on a boat less than 40 feet long. That’s the problem, a lack of imagination. So many people are unwilling to give up any comfort for a little adventure.

It’s takes planning and will power to go out and do something. What it doesn’t take is a lot of money. Falling into a rut is easy. Living life where every day has new possibilities can be so much more rewarding.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

We all fall down together

Some people look at my off the grid electric power, veggie powered vehicle, wind powered boat, and other gadgets and think I’m set for collapse. The way I see, those things are nice and very useful now, but of only of limited and temporary use in a major collapse.

How’s that?

Solar electric power is a marvel. There’s very little that can wrong with it. If the grid went down it would most likely keep functioning for months or even years. Most likely. Components do fail. A close lightning strike could fry the electronics. High winds could drop a tree on my solar panels. Sometimes stuff just wears out. Eventually the battery bank will stop holding a charge and need to be replaced. Nothing lasts forever.

My waste vegetable oil powered vehicle is only useful if everyone else is driving cars. Roads won’t be maintained just for me. If no one can afford to eat out at restaurants, there will be no waste vegetable oil for my vehicle. Already it’s harder to get because so much waste veggie goes into commercial biodiesel. Temporary oil shocks I can handle. My basement has a big rack of jugs full of veggie, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.

By the way, those of you who are smug that you are riding a bicycle, you won’t go forever either. Bike parts wear out too and there’s a heck of a long supply chain for most components. Are bicycle tires even made in North America anymore?

All the cool stuff eventually breaks or wears out. Then what do you do? You do what a philosopher does after enlightenment: chop wood and carry water.

Living in a rural forested area, I can heat and cook burning wood. I’ve axes, and manual saws that will last a long long time. Even if those are gone, it’s still possible to gather wood with primitive homemade tools. Anyone can pick a stick off the ground.

Having access to potable water is key. My well constantly overflows. All I need is a bucket or a cup. Diogenes, the philosopher, simplified his life and threw his cup away when he saw a child drinking from his cupped hand.

Some preppers have taken the hard core approach. They look a the way the natives used to live in their environment and learn the old skills. They practice how to make everything from stone arrow heads, to pottery, to rope from natural fibers -everything necessary for life. All their technology is stuff that can be fashioned from local materials by small bands of people. These are all good skills to have.

We’ve got a resource that was unavailable to the natives: piles and piles of junk. We’ve got a metals and synthetic materials unknown to our predecessors. We’ll be able to strip a car the way a Plains Indian could use every part of a Buffalo.

The gadgets are nice for temporary disruptions. Odds are that they’ll get a homestead through in something approaching modern comfort. Should something like a massive solar flare take down technological civilization, having a good location and skills will be key.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Truck tribulations

Long time readers of my blog may remember the springtime problems with our old 93 F250 pickup truck. It took a little redneck repair to get it to limp home to NH from FL. Only used it once since to make a load to the dump. Since then it’s sat in the driveway.

Today I decided to move it. A buddy of mine wants it for parts. The engine purrs like a tiger. (7.3 turbo diesels do not purr like kittens) The rest of the truck has advanced body cancer and is falling apart.

The truck hasn’t run all summer, so the batteries were too low to turn the big diesel over. A couple hours on the charger and it fired right up. I locked the hubs and shifted into 4 wheel drive. A roar and a lurch later and the truck climbed up the dirt driveway and onto the pavement.

That’s where it came to horrible stop. There was a long screech of metal things coming apart and the truck was stuck sideways, blocking the road.

Here’s what happened. The non-drive rear wheel on the truck had frozen into place. Even with one wheel not turning, the other drive wheel and the front drive wheel were able to pull it to the pavement. The frozen wheel just dug a trench in the soft dirt. Once it hit the pavement, the stuck wheel had something solid to grab onto. It was too much for the universal join that drove the front axle. That failed noisily and messily.

I had to get the truck out of the road, but it would not move under its own power. The one remaining drive wheel would only spin and smoke. I called my local tow truck guy, but he was out on a call and unavailable for hours.

In an almost desperate move, I hooked a tow strap to my ambulance/motorhome conversion and tried to pull the truck out of the road with that. To my happy surprise, it dragged the truck to the side of the road, stuck wheel and all. The tow strap looked and sounded like a guitar string, but it held.

Now all I have to do is to jack up the truck and see if that wheel can be freed. If it can, the truck could be driven the short distance to my friend’s house. If not, I can always call the tow truck guy.

At least it’s out of the way and I’ve got room for Thursday’s firewood delivery.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winter prep

My lovely wife and I have been taking about our winter plans. Last year, we had house sitters lined up to watch the place. We knew for sure we would be on the road in early January. Winter prep only went as long as the end of December. A small pile of wood, a few gallons of heating oil, and we were good to go. The house sitters took care of the house the rest of the winter, and did a fine job of it too.

This year, things are different. There are enough family and other things going on right now that we can’t really set a firm departure date. With that in mind, we’ve decided to prep as if we were spending the whole winter at home. That way, if we do stick around, we won’t freeze in the dark. We decided to stop looking for a larger sailboat. Our money will go into house upgrades instead.

It’s actually a relief to have come to that decision. There’s focus to my actions now. The next few weeks will be busy ones. Today I replaced all the firebrick in the kitchen woodstove. In a more perfect world, I’d have bought a new stove, but I’m looking to pay down debt, not make any more.

My wood hauling trailer is almost ready for the road. Hope to register it on Tuesday. One of my friends has a load of nice dry wood for me. It’s too long for his stove so he’d rather not spend all this time cutting off the ends. Fits mine fine.

One good thing about my lovely wife and I. Should we decide to head south, we can shut down the house, pack our stuff, and head on down the road in less than a day. A few days later we could be sailing off the coast of Florida. We’ve made similar last minute travel decisions in the past. Once we decided to go camping. Twenty minutes later we were packed and headed down the road. That was in summer. Properly shutting down a house in the winter takes a bit of planning.

Unless everything falls apart, we’ll most likely scoot south for a good part of the winter. If we do, our winter preps will have us that much better off for the winter after.


Monday, September 3, 2012


Way back in the 70s, when automation was really taking off, there was talk about what all the former workers would do with their time. There was serious discussion that the fruits of automation would be shared. People once tied to assembly lines would be free to pursue creative activities.

What we ended up with is all the wealth being concentrated at the top and the former factory workers either unemployed or reduced to working low wage service jobs. So much for Utopian dreams.

Even places like China are in the process of replacing people with machines. The leaders are worried as unemployment rears its ugly head, threatening societal stability.

Let’s bring the whole automation thing to its logical conclusion. Everything gets automated and there are no jobs. All wealth is concentrated in the the hands of the machine owners. Of course, before that would happen, there would be no one with any money to buy the products and services of the machines. Who knows, maybe by then consumption will be automated too.

While I’m at it, let’s take Capitalism to it’s logical conclusion. All the weaker companies lose to the stronger ones. Over time, there would be fewer and fewer companies, but those companies would be larger. Eventually, everything would be owned by one giant company. Then competition would end and everything would be crap.

In the real world, everything is not so neat, but my simplified explanations show the trends. Much of the disappearance of jobs has been hidden by an expanding economy and the creation of new jobs. As the economy has slowed down, the cracks in the system have become more apparent.

The economy was bound to slow down eventually. Nothing can expand for ever, especially when limited to the a single planet. Hard physical limits hit dreamy economists in the head. This is a wake up call.

What do we do about these problems? Some think everyone should be guaranteed a minimum livable income. It’s not as far fetched as one might think. That would not really be much more expensive than the system we have now. So many people collect government assistance in so many ways a simple direct payment to everyone would certainly simplify everything. People could then decide to do whatever interests them: art, writing, philosophy, theoretical physics, or they could just go fishing. Jobs that could not be automated or were really nasty would have to entice people with good wages and benefits.

There was some expectation that automated systems would fall victim to higher energy costs. Take factory farming for example. The idea was that small family farms would have the advantage. It turns out that as prices of inputs go up, the family farm suffers the effects even more than the factory farms. The large farms have the advantages of scale, volume, and political connections.

Political action could make life easier for most people. It’s done so in the past. There have been times when Capitalism had very few regulations. Workers suffered, monopolies formed, and the economy had huge boom and bust cycles. The political climate changed. Labor and health laws were passed. Monopolies were broken up. The worse abuses of the financial class were eliminated. The middle class grew.

Where are we now and where do we go from here? Some days I think the average Joe can wrestle political power back from the 1% and structure a more just society. Then I sober up. I hope to god that desperate people don’t go way the way of armed revolt. Then what we end up with is something like Communism, which we all know wasn’t really a lot of fun to live under. Armed revolt could give us a situation like the chaos of Somalia -something else that’s no fun.

What to do, what to do?

We know from Joseph Tainter that complex societies are prone to collapse. The more efficient they get,the less resilient they get. Maybe the only thing to do is to wait for the reset and rebuild from the ground up.

Of course, humans are smart and could decide their own fate, so nothing is set in stone.

Anyways, this has certainly gone on long enough for a holiday read. Your beer is getting warm. Enjoy the day off -a hold over from the last time labor gained a few concessions from the machine owners. If you have to work today, well . . . I guess that’s been lost too. It’s a trend.

Happy holiday.


Sunday, September 2, 2012


2:30 AM. The dog gets restless and wants to go out. My lovely wife gets up to let her out. By then my daughter and granddaughter are both awake.

For my part, I’m heroically doing my best to resume my journey though dream land.

Once the dog is out, she barks like crazy. There’s a man out in the road. My wife thinks he’s drunk and she manages to call the dog back in.

Of course, by then I’m up. I wander up and down the road, looking to see if anything is out of order. The guy is long gone. By the light of the moon I can see quite a ways down the road. I check all the cars with a flashlight to see if anyone is hiding in them. All clear.

After I come back in, everyone goes back to bed, except me. I sit alone in the quiet dark house, listening, listening. At the break of dawn I finally head off to bed for a few more hours sleep.

It was a warm night, on a holiday weekend. People are partying at their camps and at the campground. A drunk wandering around in the middle of the night really should not be a surprise. Still, my security sucks. The cars were unlocked. Heck, even the front door was unlocked. Only the dog was on the ball. It did get me thinking -I’ve got to do better.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ego problem

I tell people I don’t have an ego problem, it’s big and healthy.

Now anyone who writes anything for public consumption has to have an ego at least a little bit larger than average. If we didn’t, we’d feel we had nothing to contribute.

I must admit, I like to tease people, especially those who take themselves way too seriously. I get a big kick out of is saying outrageous things.

The other day a guy asked me what I liked to eat from one of the local restaurants. I told him I really enjoy the bison burger because I like the thought of such a huge and magnificent animal being killed just so I can have a burger.

“I’m not surprised you think that way,” he said.

Isn’t it nice to have a reputation?

One night a friend and I were outside gazing up at the sky. The air was clear and the sky just blazed with stars.

“Does this make you feel humble,” he asked me?

“Just the opposite,” I said. “It make me feel huge and important.”

“Why’s that?” he asked, puzzled.

“Imagine, all those billions of stars, just so I can have a little mood lighting.”

Isn’t it fun to go against people’s expectations?

I can’t help it. All my life I’ve looked at people’s expectations and then tried to see the world from new vantage points. When you don’t take anything for granted, it sure does open up possibilities.

My crime is getting people to think. Most people accept what’s been handed to them. They absorb a way of life from the people around them and assume that’s what normal is like. It’s no surprise that I ain’t normal. (but really, nobody is, they are just faking it.)

There are cultures where I probably wouldn’t do all that well in. In Japan they say, the nail that sticks up get’s pounded down. Nope, a bit too collective for me.

My heroes are court jesters, harlequins, and the sacred clowns -the Heyoka. If I’ve any wisdom at all, it’s the wisdom of the backward upside down people.

Yes, I even know how to juggle.

For me, the jesters were the ones with the biggest egos, even bigger than the king. Kings want to be on top of the pile and think they are better than everyone else. The jester mocks the king and all he values. It takes a big ego to deny the value of what everyone else thinks is important.

My ego is big that I have no need to keep up the Joneses. Instead, I mock and laugh at their foolish striving.

Hey, it entertains me, and if it sometimes entertains you too, that’s great.